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U.S. Department of Education recognizes Seattle-area IB schools for equity and rigor

The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) at the US Department of Education recognized Renton High School for providing broad access to IB programmes for low-income communities in the Seattle area. Two years ago, Renton began making the IB Diploma Programme (DP) the standard for all juniors and seniors. In a news release, “A Focus on Equity and Rigor in Seattle-Area Schools,” OII praised Renton for its success improving access to education and increasing student achievement.

Renton High School

Renton High School
(Photo Credit: Joe Mabel CC BY-SA 3.0)

At Renton, the decision to expand access to the IB Diploma was one of many implemented across a consortium of schools to increase access to college preparatory courses. OII says that at the time of making the DP the “default curriculum” at Renton High School, “some in the community weren’t sure that was a good idea.” The decision has proven to have had a positive impact.

According to the OII, “the percentage of African American students taking those courses has risen from 46 percent for the class of 2013 to 58 percent for the class of 2014.” Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Teaching for Renton School District Damien Pattenaude says:

Today, all of Renton’s students have access to the [DP], and it’s up to us to help support them. The bar is higher for our students across the board.”

Renton School District is one of seven districts serving low-income communities in the Seattle area. In 2012, the district applied for the US Department of Education Race to the Top–District (RTT–D) grant. The Race to the Top – District grant was launched by the Obama administration in 2012 to promote enhanced classroom practices and improved teaching strategies for student success. The US$40 million grant was awarded to Renton and the six other districts to “increase access to educational opportunities by creating a strong college-going culture and reducing opportunity gaps.”

Based on a technical review of the consortium’s application to RTT-D, the grant will support 147,085 students, of which, over 77,336 are low income. Pattenaude says, “The RTT–D grant allowed us to really ramp up the work we were doing preparing to implement quickly. It really supported our professional development work and helped with family engagement and lowering costs associated with the IB programme.”

“To foster greater equity in rigorous course-taking, all of the districts adopted policies, programs, and practices that helped move more students, particularly disadvantaged students, into college-prep courses, including Advanced Placement (A.P.) and IB classes.

In addition to the implementation of the DP, the consortium has been able to develop additional programmes and policies to help disadvantaged students. The combination of college-prep courses, Advanced Placement classes, and the IB Diploma Programme have made a noticeable difference in the school’s culture. Many more students are taking college-going tests, particularly students of color. The OII notes, for example, that “the percentage of black students taking these exams is up 165 percent, and the percentage of Hispanic students is up 237 percent.”

The project reaches well beyond access to the IB Diploma Programme. Funds are also being used to provide free PSAT/SAT tests and allow students to take the tests during the regular school day, rather than on weekends. The RTT-D consortium also plans to use funds to address school-readiness for young children. In addition, the award has also allowed the consortium to leverage funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to examine how the districts are addressing racial equity.

Contributing author Kari Lorentson is writing about the experience of IB graduates at universities around the world. Lorentson studies at American University and previously attended Fishers High School. Contact her at [email protected].